Why Are F1 Cars So Expensive? (Full Explanation)

Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport. The cars push the boundaries of technology, and engineers are always developing and improving their cars in order to beat their competition out on track. This means F1 cars are extremely expensive to build and maintain.

F1 cars are so expensive because all of the parts used in them are designed to be ultra-high performance and lightweight. Formula 1 cars can cost anywhere between $10 and $20 million to build, but it takes more than $100 million to develop the car before it’s built too.

Over the course of the season, Formula 1 teams need to use two cars and a number of spare components that have to be taken to each race in case of some being damaged. This drives the cost up even further, and we take a closer look at all of these costs below.  

How Much Do F1 Cars Cost To Build?

F1 cars cost between $10 and $20 million to build, but development costs can mount up to more than $100 million. Formula 1 cars are made up of thousands of individual components, from large and expensive engines to small – but still expensive – screws and other relatively minor parts.

Each of these 10,000+ components are also specially built by the team and they always ensure that the components are built for high performance and are as lightweight as possible. This adds even further costs to each individual component, pushing the overall cost of the car up even further too.

Remember, $10-20 million is the cost of building one car. Teams must use two cars per team in order to compete in a season. On top of that, teams have to put research and development into their cars, which involves testing and building new parts, adding even more costs. Considering this, it’s easy to see why the teams with smaller budgets are struggling compared to the giants of the sport.

Below, we’ll dive into many of the main components in more detail to outline the total costs of building an F1 car. However, note that all of these costs are estimates based on data from various sources and teams, and the costs vary significantly per team. We also don’t have data for 2022 costs and onwards, so figures are simply estimations.

Engine – $10 million

The engine is the most expensive part of the car. Taking up a decent $10 million or so, with a limit of $15 million, the 1.6 liter V6 turbo hybrid engine is based on performance and efficiency. The engine may be small, but it certainly is no slouch out on track, helping to keep F1 cars at the top of the motorsport timesheets.

This engine can produce a massive 1000 horsepower, often powering the cars 210+ miles per hour on the circuits that have longer straights.

Most of the costs come down to building the combustion engine as well as implementing the turbo and the hybrid systems, the MGU-H and MGU-K. These are some of the most efficient engines in the world, and they can get the cars to the finish line (190 miles) with 30 gallons of fuel, going at full speed, which is practically impossible with your average road car.

More Efficient Than You’d Think

Bear in mind how fast these cars go, and how fast your road car’s fuel efficiency drops above speeds of about 50 mph, and the 6 mpg or so that 200+ mph F1 cars manage is actually fairly impressive. Some high-end supercars, such as the Bugatti Chiron (at the very high end of course), only get about 8 mpg when driving in the city!

If you drive your road car and get, say, 30 mpg when driving on the highway, you can expect (as a result of inefficiencies in the engine and air resistance etc.) to get about a third (or less) of that at speeds of around 100 mph. While your road car likely can’t go much higher than that anyway, you can only imagine your (lack of) mileage at speeds above 150 mph!

Extra Engine Expenses

Another big part of the engine expenses in F1 is development. Teams are constantly upgrading their engines and the components within them to get ahead of their competition. Millions of dollars are spent each year by teams who do research into their engines and develop new parts to implement.

However, from 2022 and likely until the next engine rule changes in 2026, there will be an engine freeze in place. This means that teams are not allowed to develop or upgrade their engines in any way until the end of the freeze. This is in place to reduce costs and help teams to comply with the increasingly stringent budget cap rules.

Teams are only allowed to use three engines throughout a season as per the FIA rules. This was implemented in order to reduce the costs so that teams don’t have to keep building new engines throughout the year. If a driver uses more than three engines in a season, they will begin taking grid penalties for each new engine that is used in their car.

Why Are F1 Engines So Expensive?

Formula 1 engines so expensive because they are some of the most complex and intricate engines in the world. Each engine can cost upwards of $10 million to manufacture. There is a limit of $15 per engine, and this is not included in the overall budget caps imposed on the teams.

The relatively small 1.6 liter V6 turbocharged hybrid engines are capable of producing 1000 horsepower or more. Formula 1 engines are also made up of thousands of components, with each one designed with high performance in mind, adding to the overall cost. However, the complexity of building these engines is another reason why they are so expensive to manufacture.

F1 engines also make use of hybrid technology. Ultimately this technology is what adds a lot of costs to the $10+ million price tag. This technology has taken years to develop, and it adds incredible power and efficiency to the engines.

Chassis – $750,000

The chassis plays an important role in a Formula 1 car. It plays a key part in how the car handles, and it has a huge impact on the car’s cornering capabilities. In the past we have seen drivers struggle simply because of a cracked or damaged chassis, or one that was simply not that well designed.

Formula 1 teams will normally use the same chassis throughout the entire season unless it is damaged in some way. There are no penalties for replacing a chassis (outside of parc fermé), but it’s not something that can be changed easily throughout the season.

An F1 car’s chassis lays the foundation for the entire build of the car. Components can be designed to fit the chassis, but if the chassis is altered after all of these components have been built it can cause a lot of problems on the car. Changing the chassis dramatically can cause handling issues and reliability problems due to the other components becoming incompatible.

Gearbox – $600,000

A Formula 1 gearbox is one of the most complex systems on the car. These gearboxes are some of the most sophisticated on the planet, and they are made up of thousands of different components that all work together.

Formula 1 drivers can change gears in the blink of an eye at almost any rev count, and this allows the engine to use as much of its performance as possible. One gearbox alone can cost up to $600,000 to build because of the materials and the different parts needed to build them, and the ultrafine tolerances to which they are built.

On top of that, Formula 1 gearboxes are extremely fragile, and can wear out fast if abused. As with engines, Formula 1 drivers have a limit on the number of gearboxes they are allowed to use throughout the season. The current rule is that each gearbox must last six races, but from 2022 drivers are only allowed three gearboxes per season, making it an even bigger challenge.

Carbon Fiber Monocoque – $600,000

The monocoque is a structural component of the chassis, often called the tub, which is where the driver sits. The main cost involved in the monocoque is the amount of carbon fiber that is needed to build it. On top of that, high tech equipment has to be used to craft the monocoque precisely as it is built to maximize the car’s aerodynamic efficiency.

Arguably the most important part of the car’s body is the driver’s survival cell. The survival cell is a carbon fiber enclosure that the driver sits in. The survival cell is strong enough to stay intact in the worst of crashes, and it is practically impenetrable. But this safety aspect comes with a big cost.

Front Wing – $300,000

The front wing of a Formula 1 car is extremely expensive. This is largely because it is made entirely of carbon fiber, just like many other parts of the car. This makes it lightweight which helps with the performance of the car.

However, what makes the front wing so expensive is the intricate design you’ll see on them. If you take a close look at a Formula 1 car’s front wing, you’ll notice a whole bunch of different winglets and little design features. These are specifically made to maximize its aerodynamic effect. However, these winglets come at a cost as they are more difficult and expensive to carve into the font wing.

The front wing of a Formula 1 car is also one of the parts that is massively developed over the course of a season. Shapes may change slightly, and winglets may be added or removed based on the nature of the circuit they are racing on. This can lead to an increase in overall costs throughout the season as well.

Front Wing Damage

However, front wings are extremely fragile because of these thin pieces of carbon fiber that are attached to them. A slight bump or brush with another car can send bits of carbon fiber flying everywhere.

Small amounts of damage, such as damage to a winglet or endplate that is 5 inches long, can cause the car to lose between 0.3 and 1 second per lap in pace. This shows how precisely these wings have been designed and how much the cars rely on them. The 2022 rules should reduce the number of extra parts on the front wings, simplifying them somewhat, but they’ll still be very expensive!

Teams always need to be prepared for any situation, so they will bring multiple front wings to each race weekend. They all need to be identical in order to keep the car’s performance consistent, which means that damage to front wings alone could cost a team upwards of $1 million per race weekend (without research and development).

Rear Wing – $150,000

The rear wing plays yet another important role in the aerodynamics of the car. Without the rear wing, an F1 car wouldn’t generate as much downforce and wouldn’t be nearly as fast through the corners. It needs the downforce on the rear tires in order to stay in control, as without that, it would simply spin in the corners.

However, the rear wing doesn’t cost as much as the front wing because there are fewer intricate parts that need to be built into it (this is also simplified for 2022 onwards). Think of the rear wing as more of a solid block that doesn’t need winglets and clever designs.

The rear wing assembly also has the DRS element installed on it, which is the rear wing flap that opens up to reduce drag, which adds to the costs. Formula 1 teams still develop their rear wings throughout the season, although not as much as the front wing.

Steering Wheel – $70,000

The steering wheel is one of the most complex parts of a Formula 1 car. It’s made of carbon fiber and it has an ECU that is able to control different elements on the car such as the engine power, ERS and DRS, and various other settings on the car.

As an F1 steering wheel is built out of carbon fiber, it’s already very expensive. However, this also makes the steering wheel extremely lightweight which is ideal for the performance of the car and the driver’s ability to maneuver the car accurately.

The complexity of the steering wheel also contributes to its cost. A driver is able to control multiple different elements of the car simply by using the onboard computer built into the steering wheel. This means that the steering wheel has to be connected to various different elements on the cars, adding to its cost.

Other Components

The list above covers all the major components that are found on a Formula 1 car. There are simply too many parts on a Formula 1 car to list the individual costs of all of them, and the costs vary a lot between teams as well.

Each wheel nut, for example, can cost hundreds of dollars, and teams will need multiple of these as they are prone to damage. The list of smaller parts goes on and on, and we can expect most of these smaller parts to also have significant costs, given their high performance nature. Everything from the driver’s seat to the paint on an F1 car is expensive, as it is built for optimum performance.

Why Are F1 Tires So Expensive?

F1 tires are so expensive as they are specially made by Pirelli. The tires are much wider and larger than standard road tires which means that extra rubber of special composition is used to construct them. This means that the tires cost significantly more to manufacture than your average road tires.

Formula 1 tires also come in three different compounds, soft, medium and hard. Each compound has to be constructed differently using different types of rubber and various chemicals. This adds to the costs even further, meaning the tires end up costing $2,000 to $3,000 per set.

Do F1 Teams Pay For Tires?

F1 teams do not pay for tires. Pirelli provides F1 with tires for free in exchange for the publicity they get from featuring in the world’s premier motorsport. While F1 tires can cost upwards of $3,000 per set, Formula 1 teams do not have to factor this into their budgets.

These tires are only used in Formula 1, and Pirelli has a dedicated team that they use to research, develop and manufacture the tires specifically for Formula 1 teams.

Can You Buy An F1 Car?

You can buy an F1 car, but they’re hard to find and obviously very expensive. Legendary Formula 1 cars are often put up for auction, and they usually sell for millions of dollars. The most expensive F1 car ever sold at public auction was a 1954 Mercedes W196R, for around $30 million in 2013.

Final Thoughts

F1 cars are expensive because of the materials used to build the cars. On top of that, there are thousands of components in each car, and they’re all designed for extremely high performance. Budget cap rules do bring the costs down compared to those of the past, but they still cost $10-20 million.